Thinking about personal finance may not excite you, but it may not be as hard as you think to get on top of things. The first step on the road to financial success is understanding what’s going on with the cash you already have. Once this is covered, you can start to think about how to generate more, and how to make what you have work harder.
You could pay an accountant to trawl through your bank statements, or you could draw up ledgers of your own. A far better and easier way, however, is to turn to free home finance software, which can make light work of managing your money.
Choosing the right tool will depend on what you do with your money, but here we've collected five of the best free personal finance programs available to help you make the most of your money.
Money made simple with a wizard-based interface and easy reporting tools
Setting up a financial database can be daunting, so with Money Manager Ex it's great to see that there is a wizard on hand to guide you through process. This means you are prompted to enter the details of all of the bank accounts you have, indicating their type (current, savings, etc) and funding level. As you receive and spend money, you can add this data to the program, adding payees along the way or setting them up in advance.
At its most basic, Money Manager Ex lets you see where your money comes from and where it goes, and the reporting tools are superbly clear. There is no option to pull in data directly from bank accounts, but with enough manual data entry the program is able to help you with budgeting and features cashflow forecasting. The soul of the program is about tracking money, and this it does flawlessly - you just have to be willing to put the time and effort into keeping everything up to date by hand.
Review and where to download: Money Manager Ex
If you're used to home accounting, you'll like GnuCash's advanced functions
Suitable for home accounting as well as for small businesses, GnuCash is flexible and convenient.
As with other free personal finance software, you're guided through the initial account setup process so you can quickly add all of your accounts, assets, regular payments and so on. If you've already been using financial software, you can import data in QIF and dOFX formats.
Small business features such as double-entry accounting and tax tools also serve to bolster the home financing side of things. GnuCash does really require a degree of familiarity with accounting, but the data analysis and reporting tools are an excellent free alternative to an accountant or financial advisor - and the reconciliation tool for checking transactions on a statement is something that could come in very useful.
Review and where to download: GnuCash
Free home finance software for managing your money on desktop or mobile
Mvelopes is an online tool rather than a dedicated standalone program, and this has its advantages and disadvantages. There are free and paid-for packages available, but here we're concerned with the free one, and this means there are a few limitations.
The first is that you are only able to work with four accounts, and the second is that you can only use 25 'envelopes' - the custom organizational categories used by Mvelopes. Envelopes are used to categorise spending and income, and with a little inventiveness, it's easy to overcome the limitation of a free account. Once set up, you can see at a glance where all of your money is going, and use the software to set a budget (monthly or annual) and start a saving plan.
Technically you need to be in the US to sign up for an Mvelopes account. You'll be asked to provide a US phone number during the sign-up process, but we're sure you can make up something suitable. Using the iOS or Android apps could be a little harder in the rest of the world, though.
Try it online: Mvelopes
A home finance tool that takes the complexity out of managing accounts
With support for an unlimited number of accounts, HomeBank is some of the best free personal finance software for novice users, no matter how complicated their finances may be. Accounts can be linked together to allow for transfers back and forth, and there are a number of templates available to make it easier to setup recurring transactions for bills and savings.
Clearly keen to make the potential dull topic of money a little more approachable and appealing, HomeBank make heavy use of colorful graphs and charts to help you to visualize how you're spending your money. There are also some handy extras such as the vehicular cost tool which makes it easy to monitor and predict the cost of car ownership based on mileage, average repair cost and so on.
HomeBank is not the most advanced financial tool out there, but that doesn't matter. It has all of the essentials covered making it ideal for most home users.
Download here: HomeBank
Streamlined personal finance software with support for e-payment services
As the name would suggest, AceMoney Lite is a cut-down, free version of the main AceMoney personal finance software. Clearly this means that a few sacrifices have been made along the way, but the streamlined program is still excellent in its own right.
It can only handle two accounts, but for many people and families this is likely to be enough, and while it isn't possible to import transactions from your bank automatically, you can download and add them yourself quite easily if you bank online. This is a great timesaver when it comes to getting all of your transactions in place, and is one of the main reasons you might want to consider using AceMoney Lite over some of the alternatives.
As well as traditional banks, there is also support for e-payment system such as PayPal making this program ideal for internet shoppers. The two account limitation is the only thing that's slightly disappointing about the free version of the program.
If you can get by with this, AceMoney Lite is the perfect free personal finance software for you, but otherwise you may need to consider upgrading to the paid version for US$40 (about £30, AU$50).
Download here: AceMoney Lite